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Riverside county supervisors move ahead to work with neighboring counties in changing the coronavirus tier system

Note: The Riverside County Board of Supervisors meeting was held Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel asked her colleagues Tuesday to support a proposal for the Executive Office to coordinate with neighboring counties in presenting a unified request to the governor to revise or drop the state's current color-coded coronavirus tier system. Update at 11:50 a.m. Tuesday, the board approves this proposal to build a coalition in working with other counties on the coronavirus tier system.

District 5 board member Jeff Hewitt said, "It’s an unequal representation of the law to begin with." Kevin Jeffries, of district 1, agreed on the tier system being unfair. He added, "Anytime we can build a coalition with other counties to try and overcome that treatment, let’s do it."

Other members of the board said the conversation is happening between counties and the state but more discussion is not going to hurt. They still approved moving forward with the proposal. Chuck Washington, with district 3, said, "Maybe there’s a different approach that can get a different outcome." V. Manuel Perez, with district 4, added, "Re-examination is a great thing, having a dialogue with the state of California is a great thing."

"Riverside County has created or expanded 22 programs to mitigate direct and indirect impacts (of COVID-19)," Spiegel said in documents posted to the Board of Supervisors' agenda for Tuesday. "Yet there is no number of programs that can replace someone's livelihood or business … Entire industries are at a standstill, and public assistance is limited.''

Spiegel's proposal amounts to a directive for retiring CEO George Johnson, or incoming Interim CEO Juan Perez, and Executive Office staff to "engage" Imperial, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and possibly other Southern California counties in forming a partnership focused on addressing defects in the tier structure.

The proposal stated, "Health metrics such as hospital capacity that the State once declared as important under prior reopening blueprints, and which are recognized as being key to our public health, are no longer being considered."

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the color-coded system in August to replace the multi-phase public health de-regulation strategy originally established at the end of April.

In early October, Newsom also said he wanted to get as many counties out of purple and ultimately out of yellow. He said, "We're going to update these tiers hopefully by the end of the calendar year. It's an interim process." He added, "We're using this tiered status to get us through the next number of weeks."

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The tier plan has four color bands -- purple, red, orange and yellow -- that reflect how a county is managing coronavirus impacts. Riverside County had moved into the "red" tier in the third week of September, removing barriers for some businesses and houses of worship to resume indoor operations with capacity limitations.

However, on Oct. 20, the California Department of Public Health directed that the county return to the most restrictive "purple" tier, prohibiting indoor functions, except for most big box retailers, or risk fines.

CDPH administrators made the decision based largely on low COVID 19 testing volumes, without any corresponding notable upswing in infection rates. In fact, the countywide 5.2% testing positivity rate meets red tier criteria.

"Riverside County continues to make great strides in improving testing, as well as outreach within hard-to-reach groups and high spread workplaces,'' Spiegel said. "Hospital capacity also remains very stable and has been for months."

The supervisor was the foremost critic of the CDPH's reclassification, remarking immediately after the board was informed of the change that "enough is enough. We've got to find a way to step forward without hurting people. My frustration has turned to anger. We are way too far beyond this.''

In her call for a united front to challenge the color-coded categorizations, Spiegel said "our residents and businesses feel the devastating impacts that this new round of closures will have on their livelihoods, mental health and other vital ... needs."

According to the supervisor, all counties should be entitled to a "consistent, predictable and reasonably achievable structure in order to
reopen our economy and society in a safe way.''

She emphasized that certain metrics, including hospital capacity, should be restored as main criteria for reopening. The county's COVID-positive hospitalizations are now at or below levels reported in April. The peak was in mid-July.

"Presenting a coordinated, unified platform to the state will strengthen our voice and make sure the concerns of Riverside County are heard in Sacramento,'' Spiegel said.

The board approved a self-directed reopening plan on Oct. 6, but the timetable originally included in the plan for allowing businesses to fully open was removed on a 4-1 vote because it would have conflicted with state mandates.

Johnson was authorized to implement reopening policies outside of the state's schedule, but he said more than $100 million in relief grants from the state would be at risk if the county moved independently.

To check your counties tier status and what places are open or closed under it: https://covid19.ca.gov/

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Taban Sharifi

Taban Sharifi is a Meteorologist and Reporter with KESQ News Channel 3, The Desert’s News & Weather Leader. Learn more about Taban here.

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